During my career, I spent many years working in corporate and marketing communications. In that time, I helped to develop brands, create or refurbish new logos, protect logos from misuse, ensure that marks were used properly, and build corporate identifies for companies—including manuals on correct usage.
Over and over, I saw the value of a strong brand and how important it is to maintain that brand over time. Sometimes I had to argue with executives who wanted to turn the company name into a verb or use the logotype in a negative way. And in the high-tech world, I fought an ongoing battle to build a strong corporate presence in addition to generating sales leads.
Thus, it’s with a sense of slack-jawed, gob-smacked amazement that I watch what Elon Musk has done—and continues to do—to the company that used to be Twitter.
Elon Musk’s Wrecking Crew
We all know the details by now:
- Changing the company name. Musk started with Twitter—a name synonymous with instant communication and well-known to millions around the world. He turned it into X, a name which means nothing. It can also be easily confused with other companies and brands, such as Comcast’s Xfinity.
- Changing the company logo. Everyone knew the little blue bird. Even people who didn’t have a Twitter account and/or had no intention of ever using Twitter, recognized the bird. It reflected the company name perfectly and gave meaning to the word Tweet. But what’s an X besides a letter at the end of the alphabet?
Companies developing a logo strive to create one that stands out from the crowd. It should ideally say something about what the company does or produces, be visually recognizable, adapt well to different uses, and reinforce the brand.
If you want to re-vamp and modernize a logo, that’s fine. Brands like Columbia Pictures, Betty Crocker, Burger King, and Renault have done so many times over the years, yet people still recognize them. But throw a valuable logo in the trash? When you do that, you’re also discarding years of name recognition and good will.
But Wait, There’s More for Twitter
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mr. Musk kept right on with his Twitter demolition derby. Additional actions included:
- Using the platform for ideological purposes. He not only changed the algorithm to favor right-wing messages, but he also adopted them himself. Many of us who don’t follow right-wing sources found those people appearing on our Twitter feeds. We had to unfollow to get rid of them. Mr. Musk has himself X-ed conspiracy theories and antisemitic slurs.
- Insulting the advertisers. This latest example of arrogant pique truly takes one’s breath away. Offended that major companies protested his antisemitic messages by removing their advertising, he told them bluntly to, “Go fuck yourselves.” For someone touted as a genius, he couldn’t have come up with a stupider, more self-destructive thing to say. Go ahead, insult your advertisers; see if that makes them come back. Just don’t hold your breath.
And the Results for X Are . . .
When he revealed the new X logo, Mr. Musk said he wanted, “a minimalist Art Deco design.” What’s he’s getting instead is a minimalist company so reduced that’s a shadow of its former self.
- He over-paid $44 billion for Twitter. The company has since dropped nearly $70 million a day during Mr. Musk’s first year. Current estimates put its worth at $19 billion.
- Share value has dropped by $54.20 per share.
- Staff has skidded to less than 50% of what it used to be, largely because Mr. Musk cut the workforce in half, starting with the senior executive team. In the high-tech world, that’s called doing more with less. But, like alchemy and trickle-down economics, it rarely works.
- Millions of users have quit—15% worldwide and 18% in the U.S—including major celebrities.
- In 1991, advertising accounted for nearly 90% of Twitter’s $5.1billion in annual revenue. Yet from September of 2022 to August of 2023, ad spending on X/Twitter by major ad agencies dropped 54%, according to ad-analytics firm Guideline.
Stop the Hemorrhaging
Any communications director who recommended such destructive tactics would have been summarily fired.
Any CEO who posted such dismal results would have resigned to spend more time with his family.
And, ordinarily, the company’s Board of Directors would have intervened and attempted to stop the hemorrhaging. Depending on the structure of the board and how shares are held, they might have taken actions along a spectrum from strongly advising a different approach to firing him as CEO.
But in 2022, Mr. Musk dissolved Twitter’s board, giving himself unchecked power. And he’s not about to fire himself.
From Positive Disruptor to Destructive Force
Once, years ago, I actually respected Elon Musk. I thought he was a positive disruptor, the kind of innovator who tries things—like a reusable booster rocket—that no one else dared attempt. But if absolute power corrupts absolutely, then he has gone pretty far down the absolute path.
NOTE: Periodically I receive an X notification that Elon Musk is following me. This has happened three or four times, so either he doesn’t like what he (or his staff) sees on my feed, or he just jumps in and out. He probably won’t like this, so buh bye, Elon.
What accounts for actions that experts have called, completely irrational?” Your guess is as good as mine. But I lean toward either the Dunning-Kruger Effect or narcissistic egotism. Mr. Musk literally thinks he’s the smartest person not just in the room but in the industry and can do no wrong. Therefore, everything he does is right and the rest of us poor stupid saps just can’t see it.
Except that he’s not as smart as he thinks he is. Mr. Musk has made too many terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad decisions already. The numbers stand as proof of that. What will Mr. Musk do next? Can he dig himself any deeper?
I shudder to think.